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What Is the Lautenberg Amendment?

By Andy Josiah
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Lautenberg Amendment is a nickname for an amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968. The 104th United States Congress, meeting in Washington, D.C., between 3 January 1995 and 3 January 1997, enacted it in 1996. It is named after Frank Lautenberg, the Congressman who proposed the amendment and was the senator from the state of New Jersey from 1982 to 2001. The Lautenberg Amendment is officially known as the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, and it is codified as 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(9).

The Gun Control Act of 1968 is a significant piece of legislation in that it regulates the firearms industry by banning transfers in interstate commerce except by licensed firearm makers, dealers and importers. Effective 30 September 1996, the Lautenberg Amendment in particular makes it unlawful for people who have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to receive, possess, ship or transport any firearm or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce. It also makes it a felony to send firearms or ammunition to anyone that has been convicted of such a crime.

Soldiers and law enforcement officers who rely on firearms and ammunition on their jobs are not exempt from Lautenberg Amendment, since it applies to privately owned weapons. Soldiers with a conviction of domestic violence could be prevented from going on missions or appointed to positions that require use of firearms. In some cases, such servicemen may be discharged, an action now nicknamed “Lautenberged.” Some police officers with such an offense have been dismissed in a similar fashion.

Such far-reaching effects have led some people to question the legality and constitutionality of the Lautenberg Amendment. Its opponents believe that it contradicts the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While the right to keep and bear arms is protected under this constitutional amendment, opponents argue that the Gun Control Act amendment makes it revocable. Others rely on the Tenth Amendment, arguing that making a federal crime out of firearm and ammunition possession because of a state conviction runs contrary to the principle of reserving powers not granted by the federal government for the states of the Union.

Since the enactment of the Lautenberg Amendment, some states—notably Arkansas and Montana—have challenged it under the Second Amendment, and it has been tested on the federal court level. The Supreme Court, however, has held firmly to the ruling that Congress has the right to regulate all items of commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause, which actually does not stipulate the range of such power.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1003608 — On Jul 30, 2020

Guess they are going to come for my butter knife next. Think about it for a minute. Anyone that wants to accomplish a goal will find a way. This is a stupid law enacted by lawyers and politicians pandering to special interests.

By anon1003522 — On Jul 12, 2020

SCOTUS never said it is Constitutional or lawful. Specifically, Justice Scalia, dictionary ever ready, plainly classified it as a "presumptively lawful" statute. That is default legislative importation. Presumptions, by definition, invite and require rebuttal and challenge prior to making the transition to establishments. Consider the difference between theories and laws in science.

By anon978747 — On Nov 20, 2014

The Lautenberg Amendment is way too broad, and is unconstitutional. This issue is going to make me vote for pro gun candidates even though I do not stand with them on many issues. This has hit home for me personally, and it is infringing on our rights.

By anon945860 — On Apr 15, 2014

I don't think everyone has it right here. You do not have to be convicted of domestic abuse only charged with it as I found out the hard way.

By anon358242 — On Dec 10, 2013

If it is to be a lifetime ban, it should be a felony, not a simple misdemeanor - such as spitting or an accident. Federal "law" states a quantum of force greater of than that of mere touching - but do Holder and the federal government follow their own rules? Hell, no!

By stl156 — On Dec 23, 2011

@Izzy78 - No matter what the Supreme Court rules on some cases they will not be able to satisfy everyone and they will not be able to be seen as addressing every aspect by people who wish them to decide the case in a certain way.

Unfortunately it is a law that really hits the grey area of law very hard and that means that the Supreme Court must decide and take a stand on it. I do not believe that it is a matter of trying to eliminate special interest groups in the matter it is an issue of the law itself and how the law seems to fit in one amendment but contradict the other.

This means that dare I say there is a flaw in the Constitution? I am just throwing this out there because this law has created so much trouble for lawmakers and the courts and that is what makes it so interesting.

By Izzy78 — On Dec 22, 2011

@kentuckycat - It does seem odd that servicemen and cops can lose their jobs because of this law because of something private that happened in their homes.

Now men who abuse their wives should be punished, but one has to think of how far the punishment should go and whether or not a private matter such as this, that really has no connection to their jobs whatsoever, should have a bearing on whether they are barred from being in that profession.

I find this to be a grey area of law that domestic abuse activists praise and it satisfies them, but one has to stop and think whether or not it is just. I feel like there are a lot of special interests put into this law that strike chords with people and that it is something that needs to take all these factors into account when deciding whether or not it is constitutional.

The Supreme Court has done this, but it keeps getting challenged so it is obvious that they have not completely settled every issue involved with this law yet.

By kentuckycat — On Dec 22, 2011

@jcraig - The second amendment tends to strike a chord with people when issues like controlling or regulating guns gets brought up.

Now, with my biases and beliefs aside, the courts see that it is best for society to regulate and limit handguns for certain people and upon looking at this law in regards to the Constitution, they feel that it is best that this be put into law and that it fits the framing of the Constitution.

It is obvious that men have lost their jobs and lost their military service status due to this law, but that is just the way it is and men need to keep in mind that this can happen if they are convicted of domestic abuse.

By jcraig — On Dec 21, 2011

It seems to me like the Lautenberg Amendment is something that goes right into the grey area of the Constitution and is something that is impossible to not contradict something depending on the interpretation of the person looking at it in comparison to the Constitution.

On one hand it deals with Interstate Commerce, which is completely handled by the Federal Government and not the State government's. However, it also deals with the second amendment, so right here there is a contradiction and it all depends on how someone wants to interpret the Constitution.

In cases such as this it is up to the Supreme Court to listen to the case and look at all the factors and decide what is best in regards to the Constitution. Since the Supreme Court continually defends this Lautenberg Amendment and says its constitutional, that means that it is just and is acceptable, despite what people may think of it.

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